Arsenal crashed out of the EFL Cup with a disappointing 2-0 loss to Liverpool. Both teams were without a host of key starters, but Jurgen Klopp’s men had just enough firepower to beat Arteta’s side. Arsenal lined up in a 4-3-3 for the EFL Cup game with Smith Rowe and Odegaard playing as interiors ahead of Lokonga and Liverpool also countered in a 4-3-3 set up.
Liverpool are a team that like to press very high to win possession. The Merseyside club pressurized Arsenal’s back-line with a narrow front 3.
This often cut Lokonga off from the build-up. Arsenal were forced to play wide, which allowed Liverpool to execute systematic overloads and caught Tomiyasu and Tierney on the flanks as they fell short of options after receiving the ball.
Martin Odegaard’s movement helped the Gunners counter this. The ex-Real Madrid midfielder often dropped deep to pick the ball up. This created a 3-2 shape for Arsenal’s first line of build-up. Ramsdale’s willingness to pick out a riskier passing option centrally helped the Gunners bypass Liverpool’s first line of press. The full-backs also dropped deeper to provide an additional passing lane.
The Gunners often took up a 4-2-2-2 shape in build-ups. In the middle of the park, Liverpool tried to congest the centre and force the Gunners wide. A high-line of defence and compact forward line helped the Reds compress the middle. This forced the hosts to often take the aerial route to find their attackers.
Liverpool’s centre-backs and midfielders were comfortable with their back to their own goal. Their compactness in the centre allowed them to win the second ball easily too. The aerial route proved unfruitful for the Gunners. A large volume of long balls was attempted from deeper regions but failed to penetrate Liverpool’s defence.
Arsenal tried to utilize the wings for build-up. On the right, Tomiyasu struggled for fitness and failed to offer himself as an outlet in attack. Odegaard was also caught more central or deeper than usual. The Norwegian had less influence than normal in the half-spaces.
Furthermore, Jurgen Klopp marked out Saka as Arsenal’s biggest threat. Curtis Jones, Fabinho, Van Dijk and Robertson often found themselves in close proximity to the Englishman. Lacazette tried to drop into the right half-space to offer himself as an option in possession, but the right-wing provided little service throughout the game.
The left flank offered a different narrative. Kieran Tierney and Gabriel Martinelli were Arsenal’s best players of the night. The duo often combined on the left causing Alexander-Arnold several problems. Another interesting development was the Brazilian’s positioning.
Smith Rowe occupied the half-space allowing Martinelli to drift centrally. The youngster constantly looked to attack the space between Alexander-Arnold and Matip, or between the centre-backs. If Arsenal were to score a goal against Liverpool in the EFL Cup game, it appeared most likely to arise from such a combination.
Defensively, Arsenal looked to press in a 4-4-2 shape. Liverpool countered this with several interesting adaptations. The 4-3-3 was adapted into a 4-2-2-2 shape during build-ups to stagger Arsenal’s midfield line.
Curtis Jones and Roberto Firmino found room in the half-spaces. The full-backs remained relatively deep to offer the double pivot an additional passing option. Gordon and Jota engaged Arsenal’s defensive line to prevent them from stepping up too high.
Liverpool also had the option to drop one of their full-backs deeper in possession. Robertson did this to offer an additional passing lane. The more common trend was Trent dropping into an RCB role. This allowed the Reds to maximize the full-backs’ passing ability.
It also gave Klopp’s men a 2-3-5 shape in possession, allowing them to effectively control the midfield. Arsenal’s forward line found themselves extended too high up the field. The staggered positioning of Liverpool’s midfielders made it difficult for them to execute an effective mid-block.
The first half of the EFL game proved to be an interesting tactical battle, Liverpool were more in-sync with their tactical set-up, and controlled possession while Arsenal looked slightly disjointed in a new formation but defended resolutely.
Odegaard, Martinelli and Tierney were the brightest players on the field and allowed the Gunners to dominate stretches of the game. Liverpool’s goal came against the run of play. Jota picked the ball up and shrugged off a challenge from Tomiyasu. Arsenal’s defence allowed too much space in front of the box, allowing the Portuguese to find space to unleash a shot. Ramsdale was caught off-guard and allowed a fairly straightforward shot to slip past him.
The goal marked Liverpool’s only shot on target for the first half. However, Arsenal headed into the first half in a precarious situation. An equalizer could take the game into extra time, but the away goal rule was applicable only after 90 minutes of play. This would present the Reds an advantage, and Arsenal’s best hope of progressing was to close out the game in the next 45 minutes.
AWAY GOALS: They only count after extra-time in the #EFLCup.
Here's the rule in full… pic.twitter.com/OZDcqGr107
— Carabao Cup (@Carabao_Cup) January 25, 2017
Jurgen Klopp recognized Matip’s struggles and brought on a quicker Ibrahim Konate. Like Saka, Martinelli was also marked out of the game in the second half, as the Reds concentrated largely on cutting off Martinelli from the rest of the squad.
Mikel Arteta’s lack of bench strength hurt his side’s chances of qualification. Smith Rowe, Odegaard, Lacazette, Saka and Martinelli worked tirelessly through the first half. As the players began to tire out, Arteta had few options on the bench who could provide the same attacking quality.
Liverpool were content to let Arsenal have more possession in the second half of the EFL Cup match. The Reds dominated possession 64%-36% in the first half. In the last 45 minutes, they allowed the Gunners 56% of the ball. Klopp reorganized his men into a solid mid-block.
This forced Arsenal to largely play in the deeper regions, and they struggled to make in-roads. The threat of a Liverpool counter-attack was constantly present. Arsenal brought on Nketiah for Lacazette. Partey also came on for Smith Rowe, with the aim to allow Odegaard to focus on his game higher up the field.
Martinelli slipped and conceded possession near the half-line, allowing Trent to pick out Jota. The former Wolves winger managed to remain onside, and calmly dinked the ball over an on-rushing Ramsdale. The goal effectively killed off the tie and snuffed out any hopes of a comeback.
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Thomas Partey, who had just 7 touches after coming on, picked up two yellow cards in quick succession. His sending off against Liverpool capped a highly disappointing result for Arsenal as they have been eliminated from the EFL Cup.
The Premier League remains the only competition that Arsenal is still competing in. While a top-4 is still very feasible, the Gunners must avoid committing elementary errors which affect the result. Arsenal host Burnley in the Premier League next, and will be without Partey or Xhaka. It is now up to Arteta to pick up the pieces and motivate his side to land on their feet and quickly find form again.
Stay tuned for the latest Arsenal Matchday Updates.